ELIZABETHTOWN, Ky. – Kentucky Baptists have implemented a three-pronged strategy intended to give them more input in political issues that have moral and ethical implications.
Kentucky Baptist Convention Executive Director Paul Chitwood unveiled the strategy Tuesday at the KBC Annual Meeting in Elizabethtown, telling messengers about a financial grant that is covering the cost of a lobbyist, a chaplain and a journalist, all of whom will be based at the Capitol in Frankfort. He said the grant means that no Cooperative Program funds, which covers the cost of missionaries and ministries around the world, will be used in the initiative.
“For too long, we’ve been too quiet in the Capitol,” Chitwood said. “As you know, forces on the other side have quashed a number of commonsense bills time and again, including every pro-life proposal that has been introduced in the General Assembly in recent years.”
The sheer size of the KBC, with 2,400 churches and nearly 750,000 members, means it could be a tremendous influence for good in the political process. But, having been largely silent in the political world, that influence hasn’t been fully realized in the state legislature, where nearly half the Senate lawmakers identify themselves as Baptists, as do nearly a third of House lawmakers.
The Glenmary survey, a religious census done every 10 years, shows that in 2010 more than 1 million Kentuckians identified themselves as Southern Baptists – that’s about one in four. The numbers suggest Kentucky Baptists have the potential to be a powerful force in the state Capitol.
Chitwood announced that former Kentucky Legislative Research Commission Deputy Director Tom Troth has signed on as the KBC lobbyist. Troth, a lawyer, also is pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church in Frankfort, where he has served for more than 20 years.
“Tom is a strong Christian leader who knows the ins and outs of the Frankfort political system like few others,” Chitwood said. “I’m convinced that God prepared him for this role and arranged to put him in it.”
Troth began in the new role Oct. 1.
“Lobbyists are the norm for organizations working against the interests of people of faith, yet Kentucky Baptists have never had a lobbyist representing them,” Chitwood said. “As a result, we’ve not had a significant voice on many of the most crucial issues of our day. That has now changed.”
Having a Kentucky Baptist chaplain in the Capitol is another key part of the strategy. Chitwood said the chaplain will be entirely non-partisan so that he can minister to the needs of every lawmaker and Capitol employee, regardless of political affiliation.
Steve Weaver, pastor of Farmdale Baptist Church near Frankfort and a teacher at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, began the role of Capitol chaplain Oct. 1.
Chitwood said the Capitol could easily be described as a spiritual battlefield, and having a chaplain on hand to minister to lawmakers is vital.
“Elected officials in Frankfort tend to be more prone to the whims of political influence than spiritual influence,” Chitwood said. “But the fact is, if more of these government leaders had the mind of Christ, most of the moral and ethical issues Kentucky wrestles with could be resolved overnight. That’s why we believe it’s crucial that we have a Southern Baptist chaplain in place at the Capitol to form relationships with our elected leaders, to share the gospel, to counsel on personal matters when needed, and to be a friend.”
Chitwood said the chaplain will not engage in any lobbying activity, will not show favor for a political party and will not take stands on political issues.
“Instead, he would be ‘pastor’ to the elected officials in the legislative and executive branches and their hundreds of employees,” Chitwood noted.
Two lawmakers, one a Republican and the other a Democrat, approached the Kentucky Baptist Convention’s public affairs committee to ask that a chaplain be assigned to the Capitol, pointing out what they saw as the great spiritual needs there.
The third prong of the strategy was to create a world-class online newspaper that could provide Kentucky Baptists with news and perspective on the issues of the day.
Chitwood said Kentucky Baptists have a tremendous need for reliable information about what their state lawmakers are doing.
That’s why Kentucky Baptists opted to create Kentucky Today, which offers up-to-the-minute world, national and state news.
Kentucky Today was officially launched on Tuesday. Former International Mission Board foreign correspondent Kristen Lowry has been hired to cover the Capitol for Kentucky Today. Her salary and expenses also are being covered by grant funding.
“We’ll strive to ensure that all news articles in Kentucky Today will be accurate, fair and balanced,” Chitwood said. “We cherish these news values and are bent on upholding them in our reporting. And like any good publication, we’ll also offer commentary and opinion pieces that will help Kentucky Baptists make sense of what’s going on around them.”
Chitwood said Kentucky Baptists need to know what’s going on in the world around them to effectively engage that world.
“Kentucky Today is based on a business model unlike traditional media in that it is not intended to be a money-making venture,” Chitwood said. “Instead, its sole purpose will be to inform and inspire by offering a full complement of world, national and state news, as well as sports, business and entertainment. And, of course, it will cover the Kentucky Baptist community.”